Protecting Yourself from Mother Nature
As the temperatures start to heat up, so do the insects and harmful plants. Certain insects can carry dangerous diseases such as Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus. Rashes can also be caused by plants, like poison ivy, and fungal infections from the heat and humidity. Here’s how you can protect yourself.
What to look out for: Poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Poison ivy and oak have leaves clustered in threes, with the longest stalk in the center. The leaves on poison ivy are oval-shaped, smooth-edged, and shiny or dull green, sometimes has hints of maroon. At the shore, the plants have waxy, droopy leaves. Also, poison-oak leaves are lobed. Both grow throughout the country, poison ivy as a dwarf shrub or vine, poison oak usually as a shrub. Poison sumac grows as a tall shrub or small tree in swampy areas, especially along the East Coast and in the Midwest. The leaves have rows of leaflets with an extra leaflet at the end.
What you can do: Avoiding touching any of these plants or anything else that may have come into contact with them is your best bet. Urushiol is a chemical that is found in the resin that causes rashes in most people. If found, bag the plants and dispose of them. Never burn them, because the resin that travels through the air with the smoke can enter your lungs. Having poison ivy in your lungs, I could imagine, is no treat. If you are exposed to the urushiol from the plants, wash the area affected with mild soap and cool water. Rinse your clothes and any other objects that may have been exposed. If you think that exposure to any of these plants is unavoidable, or if you have a history of reactions, invest in some IvyBlock. It’s a over-the-counter clay-based lotion that will protect you from any unpleasantness.
If all of this fails, an itchy and blistering rash will develop in two or three days. In most cases, it will take 10 days for everything to run it’s course. It’s extremely difficult, but try to avoid scratching the area that’s affected as this can lead to infection. To make yourself more comfortable in the meantime, take cool showers, apply hydrocortisone cream, and use remedies such as calamine, zinc oxide, and oatmeal baths. If you are still experiencing extreme discomfort, visiting a doctor for a prescription may be necessary.
What to look out for:
The bullseye rash is the most common and easily identifiable symptom that most people with Lyme disease develop. While the rash usually expands over a few days, in some cases you see only part of the circle, or it may appear solid or blotchy. Ticks can also be the culprit of other diseases, including ehrlichiosis (especially in southern states like Georgia) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (which, despite its name, is most common in southern Atlantic states from Delaware to Florida). All three can cause flu like symptoms, including chills and fever, fatigue, headaches, and sore muscles or joints. The symptoms of ehrlichiosis come on suddenly and hit hard, with high fever, splitting headaches, and debilitating muscle aches.
What you can do:
Wearing long pants, long sleeved shirts, socks, and shoes that have closed toes all help when you’re outdoors. Although it may look goofy, tuck your shirt into your pants and then your pants into your socks. Wearing light colored clothing also makes it easier to spot the ticks. Applying insect repellent that contains deet, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. After an outdoor outing, check over your skin and remove any ticks that may have attached themselves to you. Removing with tweezers ensures that you remove the entire tick, including the head.
Get treated promptly if you have symptoms of a tick-borne illness. Simple rounds of antibiotics can prevent long term complications.